Women's Basketball

Jan. 29, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky.  – The No. 13/12 Kentucky women’s basketball team looks continue its winning ways when it travels to Athens, Ga. Thursday, Jan. 30 to take on the Georgia Lady Bulldogs at 9 p.m. ET in Stegeman Coliseum. The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports South with Dave Neal and former Auburn head coach Nell Fortner calling the action. It also will be broadcast live on ESPN3 and the UK IMG Sports Radio Network with Neil Price. Fans can follow Twitter updates on @UKHoopCats.

Kentucky at Georgia
Thursday, Jan. 30 – 9:00 p.m. ET
Athens, Ga.
Game Notes: UK
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Kentucky (16-4, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) is coming off a hard-fought win over a tough Arkansas squad on Sunday. The Wildcats trailed by 10 points, 44-34, with 17:30 left in the second half before outscoring the Hogs 34-14 to chart their fourth consecutive win over Arkansas, 68-58.

“We have a tough task and game ahead of us going on the road to play a really tough Georgia team,” UK Hoops head coach Matthew Mitchell said. “They are really athletic, really difficult to score on. They have some great athletes and they are really tough to score on. We will have to really prepare well, work really hard, and try to do as best as we can in practice today to get ready for that. They cause you a lot of problems with their offense. They have a lot of good scorers that can get to the bucket. It will be a big test for us. We will try and put everything we can into it today and go get a victory on the road.”

Junior point guard Jennifer O’Neill (Bronx, N.Y.), who netted a team-high 21 points vs. the Razorbacks, leads a very balanced scoring attack this season as five Wildcats average in double digits. O’Neill averages 12.7 ppg, while senior forwards DeNesha Stallworth (Richmond, Calif.) and Samarie Walker (West Carrollton, Ohio) follow with 11.2 and 10.6 points per game, respectively. Senior guard Kastine Evans (Salem, Conn.) and junior guard Bria Goss (Indianapolis) add 10.2 and 10.0 points per game, respectively. In 20 games, UK has had nine different leading scorers and only twice has a player led the team in scoring in consecutive games: Goss vs. Lipscomb and Middle Tennessee and O’Neill vs. Alabama and Florida.

Walker ranks second overall in SEC rebounding with 9.4 rebounds per game and leads the league in SEC games only with 9.4 boards per game. She ranks third in the SEC in double-doubles with seven, including four in the last seven games.

Goss ranks fifth nationally and leads the SEC in free-throw shooting percentage, hitting 91.8 percent clip (56-of-61). She has currently hit 15 consecutive free throws, spanning six games.

The Lady Dawgs enter Thursday’s game at 14-6 on the season, 2-5 in SEC play. Georgia’s two SEC wins came over Arkansas (60-58) and Florida (68-62).

Georgia ranks in the top five in the SEC in scoring defense (55.9), field goal percentage defense (.359) and rebounding margin (+6.6).

Sophomore guard/forward Shacobia Barbee leads the Lady Bulldogs in scoring and rebounding at 12.8 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, while leading the SEC in steals per game with 2.7. Senior guard Khaalidah Miller and sophomore guard Tiaria Griffin round out the double-digit scorers with 11.3 and 10.5 points per game, respectively. Miller also leads the team in assists with 3.5 assists per game.

Head coach Andy Landers owns a career coaching record of 919-302 in 39 seasons. He is in his 35th season at Georgia.

UGA leads the all-time series with Kentucky 35-14, including 16-4 in Athens. UK’s last win on the road vs. Georgia was in its last trip to Stegeman Coliseum on Jan. 19, 2012. The sixth-ranked Wildcats defeated the 15th-ranked Lady Dawgs, 69-64. Only twice the all-time series has UK won two in a row vs. Georgia. The Cats have never won back-to-back games on the road vs. UGA. Four of the last seven meetings against UGA have been decided by five points or less. UK went 1-3 in those games.

Media Opportunity – January 29, 2014

Head Coach Matthew Mitchell

Opening statement …

“We have a tough task and game ahead of us going on the road to play a really tough Georgia team.  They are really athletic, really difficult to score on. They have some great athletes and they are really tough to score on. We will have to really prepare well, work really hard, and try to do as best as we can in practice today to try to get ready for that. They cause you a lot of problems with their offense. They have a lot of good scorers that can get to the bucket. It will be a big test for us. We will try and put everything we can into it today and go get a victory on the road.”

On the new practice approach …

“I’m sort of taking a wait-and-see approach with this group. We need to see some consistency in practice. The approach is that you try and make it as competitive as possible in practice and it was really, really competitive yesterday. The two teams, we had five on one team and six on the other really had to compete against each other. It was a good day, but I’m trying not to get too ahead of myself in that regard. If they practice like they did yesterday every day, and they do that, we will be alright. We looked a lot more like a Kentucky team yesterday, but we are just trying to get them to respond and compete and focus. A lot of people stood out yesterday because they played with a competitive spirit and got after it. There really was no individual to really point out.”

On when the new lineup was decided …

“It was on Friday afternoon, we started practice to try and make sure that everybody knew what was going to happen and how competition had to be the focal point of it. That’s when we decided the starters, was the first 15 minutes of practice. I wouldn’t read too much into it. Janee (Thompson) responded very well to her situation and played great. DeNesha (Stallworth) has every opportunity to play great. That’s what happened with that particular starting lineup. That didn’t mean that those kids didn’t compete the rest of practice, but that was my point that we laid it down on the line; that you couldn’t ease into it, you can’t get cranked up. If you think about us this year, at times we’ve fallen behind by double-digits and it’s just a product of just – and then we flip the game and win the game by double-digits just like Sunday. I just am trying to get away from playing when our backs are against the wall. I’m trying to get their backs against the wall and play with that kind of competitiveness the whole game. So those 15 minutes, those players did better after they got going and realized hey, this is what’s going on. That’s where the starting lineup came from, was the first 15 minutes of practice on Friday.”

On if the new lineup is still intact …

“We went with the same lineup in practice, yeah. I don’t know what that’s going to do for the starting lineup. The starting lineup for us has never been anything that – the starters really shouldn’t really mean a whole lot. We need our bench to come through and play real hard and so we need all 11 competing. When we do that, we’re a really, really good team and we have a chance to be a great team. That just hasn’t been happening on a consistent level. It didn’t happen on Sunday. You had a core group that was able to get in there and flip the game and get the victory. Yesterday was more of what I was looking for, but we will see what happens today.”

On Jelléah Sidney being known as a player on the team that does a lot of the dirty work…

“Jelléah really, really gives it everything she has and that’s why she’s in such good favor right now with this team because I don’t have to worry about her intentions. She may make plenty of mistakes, and she makes mistakes, but I don’t ever have to worry about whether she wants it or wants to win. Sometimes I have to get her out of the game because she’s not making good plays, but it’s not because she’s not trying. I really, really got on her yesterday in practice because she worked so hard to get in position to make layups and she wasn’t making them. I’ve tried to stay positive with people and say, ‘you’re going to do it, and you’re going to make it’. Finally, I just let loose. The game was close against Arkansas in the first half because our post players were 0-for-8 on layups, and so just plain and simple people think there’s something wrong with us and there is something wrong with us. Our post players aren’t making layups and so there is something wrong with that. They responded better and Jelleah made a lot more layups after that point. If she can just make some layups for us, she does a great, great job in other areas and is someone that is very important to our team.”

On if he likes being Mr. Nice Guy or the other way around…

“I just like to win, so whatever we need to do. I’ll tell you what I’m not doing, I’m not berating these kids or cursing at these kids because I don’t think that’s the way to lead or teach. We need to be through whatever this is, a challenge or a struggle that we’re in the midst of. People still need to be taught and led. I just think collectively as a group, I have to make some adjustments there and I’m comfortable doing either. I could walk in every day and it’s sunshine and rainbows and they’re blowing people out by 30 points. I wouldn’t have to be a horse’s tail to be happy. That’s not what I need to be, but I don’t mind it either. It’s just whatever the situation calls for.”

On what he saw from DeNesha Stallworth’s play vs. Arkansas…

“In that game I didn’t see any competitiveness on the defensive end and I saw not a consistent competitiveness. She made one of the most incredible plays – I think probably the toughest play in the game was (Janee) Thompson’s layup when Jessica Jackson, who is 6’3” and has a long wingspan, fouled her and she still got that ball up off the glass and it went in. I think that was the toughest play in the game. The second most impressive play in the game was DeNesha’s offensive rebound in the first half, and you’re just not seeing that, which tells you the knee is fine. She’s said she’s struggled a little bit with coming back mentally. It’s the first injury she’s ever had, so those things are what they are and I’m not inside of her brain and can’t get inside her brain and I can’t tell her how to feel. Her knee is in great shape by every measure that we have as medical people and the information I’m getting. She just has to trust it and turn it loose and play, and I think she will. Mr. Nice Guy back for a few minutes and I believe she will.”

On the role Crystal Riley plays with the team…
“I think she is a staff support associate is what the university calls her. What she is for me is player relations. It’s not her job to get the players in line or anything, but it’s her job to be in every meeting and to be there and provide feedback from a players perspective, because she is still close enough to that part of her career where she can say, ‘hey, this is what I think’. I may just say to her, ‘Crystal, what do you think?’ Put yourself in the players’ position. What do you think about this or that or whatever it may be. I think that is valuable for me and that’s why I value her being here. She also has a lot of responsibilities where she’s getting to touch a lot of different parts of the program so she can ready herself to be a college basketball coach. So that’s the benefit for her. She’s like all of the staff, they are free to say whatever they need to say and I think that is the only way you can ever truly get to where you need to be is by people believing their input is valuable. There have been several times. The most impressive thing about Crystal is she can sit in a room with people who have been coaching awhile and still disagree with them because she knows the program. She’s a product of the program, she has tremendous pride in it, and it hurts her when she doesn’t feel like we are living up to the standard. She’s a very strong young woman who gives her opinions very confidently and she’s an invaluable member of our staff.”

On Jennifer O’Neill explicitly asking what is needed of her before games…
“I think Sunday before the Arkansas game, I just didn’t like where we were Sunday morning in the practice. She was one of the ones who looked like they were tip-toeing around and was afraid we were going to get beat. So I pulled her aside because I knew how important it was for her to respond from Thursday night and taking two shots to where her mindset needed to be. I guess she did share with me that time that she appreciated me pulling her aside, so if that’s what needs to happen I’ll make sure I can get that done. If she can score 21 points tomorrow night that would be great. I might meet with her twice tomorrow.”

On the defensive strategy planned for Georgia…
“I don’t know if we can line up in one defense and just stay the same way all night. I think they’re a team that you need to try and keep off balance. One thing for us is, if we play with the kind of effort we have in the last 17 minutes of the game defensively against Arkansas, then we can play man-to-man for 40 minutes. I need to see that before I’ll be committed to not working on any zones, so we are working on zone every day and trying to become a better zone defensive team. We have made strides. It’s really the first time in a long time we’ve thought it was a big part of our game plan. No matter what defense you are in, you better play really, really tough to beat this Georgia team because they are really good.”

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